Is a person a fisherman if year after year he never catches any fish?


Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen.  And lo, there were many fish in the waters all around.  In fact the whole area was surrounded by streams and lakes filled with fish.  And the fish were hungry.

Week after week, month after month, and year after year these, who called themselves fishermen, met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing.  Year after year they carefully defined what fishing means, defended fishing as an occupation, and declared that fishing is always to be a primary task of fishermen.



Continually they searched for new and better methods of fishing and for new and better definitions of fishing.  Further they said, “The fishing industry exists by fishing as fire exists by burning.”  They love slogans such as “Fishing is the task of every fisherman,” “Every fisherman is a fisher,” and “A fisherman’s outpost for every fisherman’s club.”  They sponsored special meetings called “Fishermen’s Campaigns” and “The Month for Fisherman to Fish.”  They sponsored costly nationwide and worldwide congresses to discuss fishing and to promote fishing and hear about all the ways of fishing such as the new fishing equipment, fish calls, and whether any new bait was discovered.

These fishermen built large, beautiful buildings called “Fishing Headquarters.”  The plea was that everyone should be a fisherman and every fisherman should fish.  One thing they didn’t do, however, they didn’t fish.

In addition to meeting regularly they organized a board to send out fishermen to other places here there were many fish.  All the fishermen seemed to agree that what is needed is a board which could challenge fishermen to be faithful in fishing.  The board was formed by those who had the great vision and courage to speak about fishing, to define fishing, and to promote the idea of fishing in a far away streams and lakes where many other fish of different colors lived.

Also the board hired staffs and appointed committees and held many meetings to define fishing, to defend fishing, and to decide what new streams should be thought about.  But the staff and committee members did not fish.



Large, elaborate, and expensive training centers were built whose original and primary purpose was to teach fishermen how to fish.  Over the years courses were offered on the needs of fish, the nature of fish where to find fish, the psychological reactions of fish, and how to approach and feed fish.  Those who taught had doctorates in fishology.  But the teachers did not fish.  They only taught fishing.  Year after year, after tedious training, many were graduated and were given fishing licenses.  They were sent to do full-time fishing, some to distant waters which were filled with fish.

Some spent much study and travel to learn the history of fishing and to see faraway places were the founding fathers did great fishing in the centuries past.  They lauded the faithful fishermen of years before who handed down the idea of fishing.



Further, the fishermen built large printing houses to publish fishing guides.  Presses were kept busy day and night to produce materials solely devoted to fishing methods, equipment, and programs to arrange and to encourage meeting meetings to talk about fishing.  A speakers’ bureau was also provided to schedule special speakers on the subject of fishing.

Many who felt the call to be fishermen responded.  They were commissioned and sent to fish.  But like the fishermen back home they never fished.  Like the fishermen back home they engaged in all kinds of other occupations.  They built power plants to pump water for fish and tractors to plough new waterways.  They made all kinds of equipment to travel here and there to look at fish hatcheries.  Some also said that they wanted to be part of the fishing party, but they felt called to furnishing equipment.  Others felt their job was to relate to the fish in a good way so the fish would know the difference between good and bad fishermen.  Others felt that simply letting the fish know they were nice, land-loving neighbors and how loving and kind they were was enough.

After one stirring meeting on “The Necessity for Fishing,” one young fellow left the meeting and went fishing.  The next day he reported he had caught two outstanding fish.  He was honored for his excellent catch and scheduled to visit all the big meetings possible to tell how he did it.  So he quit his fishing in order to have time to tell about the experience to the other fishermen.  He was also placed on the Fishermen’s General Board as a person having considerable experience.


Now it’s true that many of the fishermen sacrificed and put up with all kinds of difficulties.  Some lived near the water and bore the smell of dead fish every day.  They received the ridicule of some who made fun of their fishermen’s clubs and the fact that they claimed to be fishermen yet never fished.  They wondered about those who felt it was of little use to attend the weekly meetings to talk about fishing.  After all, were they not following the Master who said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men?”

Imagine how hurt some were when one day a person suggested that those who don’t catch fish were really not fishermen, no matter how much they claimed to be.  Yet it did sound correct.  Is a person a fisherman if year after year he never catches a fish?  Is one following if he isn’t fishing?

This article was previously published in 1974  in ‘Pulpit Digest and Church Growth’, now ‘The Mennonite.’


  1. My “list” in my posts about your interview you virtually ignored. But if you really are anxious to speak specifically to my doctrinal refutations in those posts, please do.

    Wishing you a good trip, I leave you with this: “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed” (Matthew 22.22). May God grant you repentance, Carl.

  2. Douglas, I’m sure you’re gonna miss me, but we leave for the airport in an hour to go to the Middle East for three weeks. Just propagating some more heresy by helping Muslims follow Jesus. :)

    When I get back, I’d love to hear the exact things that I’m doing/teaching/believing that you think are heretical. Not “someone” from the C-5 or IM groups – but me. Moi. Yours truly. The one you’ve so sweetly befriended. Get your list ready, I’ll be anxious to read it. (It should be actual doctrinal heresy. I did my grad thesis on the Council of Nicea – so I understand a bit of the word “heresy”).

    Blessings as you try your best to keep the tares out of the wheat.

  3. Carl, in one way I get a real kick out of you, how personable and smart and witty you are : ) If I were a friend of yours I’m sure I would thoroughly enjoy you. On the other hand, I shutter to think what is going on spiritually with you. You don’t seem to realize that your waywardness and its propagation is what many are “against”. But that is out of love for Christ, his body the church, and you. This againstness is a biblical positive. In Wisconsin you have a friend in me.

  4. I think i’ve put my finger on what so concerns me with many of the posts on this site – it’s from Jesus last prayer in John 17. That we may be in unity so the world will know… It’s a forgotten evangelistic strategy.

    Many of the things that are said in these posts are excellent. I enjoy reading them. But they have an agenda. Always seem to be against someone or something. Why not just say the positive. What you’re for. Not what you’re against. Many of the comments feel insecure as if someone is after you and you’re trying to defend yourselves. Not sure why.

    I believe what you’re doing and thinking is great. Go for it. Fish away! The Houssney family (the only ones I know in these discussions) are serious about fishing and catching. So why the hurt and anger expressed in these posts. No need. Relax. Enjoy life and God and serving the people you’re called to.

    I for one, want to live in a spirit of honor, respect and unity. We are clearly called to that life.

    I’m afraid some of the attempts to “expose” someone else’s motives and strategies, in fact, makes you look small. And you (plural “you”) are not small. You guys are doing some great things, just go for it. Let the C-5 and IM crowd and whoever else you don’t like go. Let them answer to the only One they need to answer to. The One we all answer to!

  5. Missiology or Fishiology? What is the difference?
    I first received this article as a small pamphlet on orange paper handed to me by a friend in 1974. It left an indelible impact on my worldview of what missions is all about. I had already by now seen missionaries who do little more than talk strategies and concepts. Today the situation is even worse. So many in the missionary movement today make a living, and a good one at that, by speaking, writing and traveling promoting ideas, concepts, theories. and strategies. The truth is most of them have had little success if any in bringing Muslims to Christ. Yet they pride themselves in being experts and speak with authority. Interestingly some who have have gained fame have not had much experience leading Muslims to Christ. There is fame and there is fame. Billy Graham’s fame was preaching the gospel to millions of people. Authors, professors and missions “experts” are famous for their ideas. I am not here against books and authors. I am only challenging the talkers to become walkers.

    Brothers and sisters, missions is not about being missiologically or strategically right. It is about glorifying God and sharing the good news of his love and salvation through Jesus with Muslims who are waiting to hear. I hope and pray that his article will impact you in the way it has impacted me. If the Holy Spirit convicts you do not just feel bad and go back to life as usual. Go out and catch some fish.

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